Elementary schools improve; online academy has work to do

Chatfield and Fruitvale elementary schools, the only two School District 51 schools tasked by the state last year with writing “priority improvement” plans for themselves, have improved enough to move off those plans in 2012-13.

Grande River Virtual Academy, however, has some work to do.

Each year since 2010, the state has required successful schools to create “performance” plans that detail how they plan to maintain high test scores and growth in student learning. If a school has low scores on Transitional Colorado Achievement Program tests, struggles to improve individual TCAP scores year-over-year, shows a gap in TCAP score growth between select student populations, or has a high dropout rate, low graduation rate or low ACT scores, the school is required to create an “improvement,” “priority improvement” or “turnaround” plan, based on the severity of the problem.

Schools on priority improvement and turnaround plans must outline strategies for drastic improvement, receive increased state oversight, and can be closed or reorganized if their scores remain low for at least five consecutive years.

Chatfield moved on to an improvement plan this year after two years on a priority improvement plan. Principal Jackie Stapher said the school has worked to build relationships between staff and families in recent years to get everyone invested in improving student data. Chatfield has narrowed the gap between its minority and low-income kids and other students and improved its reading scores to meet state expectations. This year, Stapher plans to focus on boosting writing and math scores.

“We’re so goal-focused day-to-day that it feels good for us” to move off of a priority improvement plan, Stapher said. “When we see kids falling behind, our teachers bust their rumps to implement interventions.”

Teachers at both Chatfield and Fruitvale have spent increased time in professional development classes and programs this calendar year after receiving state grants only available to priority improvement schools. Fruitvale Principal Kathy Hays said her teachers also spend more time speaking to each other about student data and brainstorming ways to improve instruction.

Hays said kids, parents, teachers and staff have made a joint effort to improve test scores. She said it was exciting for the school to skip past having to make an improvement plan and move directly to a performance plan.

“Now our job this year is to sustain that (achievement) and keep improving,” she said.

Chatfield and Fruitvale have been replaced on the district’s priority improvement list this year by Grande River. The online K-12 program is the only school in the district that will not be on an improvement or performance plan this year.

District 51 Director of Academic Options Ron Roybal said the data used to assign a plan to Grande River came from 2011-12, the school’s first full year of operation. Only the program’s middle and high school scores counted toward the plan assignment because of the school’s small population and Roybal said the first year provided a learning curve for the district on what kinds of students do well in an online environment.

Roybal said the school plans to improve scores by implementing a better vetting process this year and offering learning interventions both in-person at the school’s physical site within Broadway Elementary and online with a new program through education company A+.

District 51 had 10 schools assigned improvement plans this year, the same number as last year. The number of District 51 schools on performance plans increased from 28 last year to 31 this year. Grand Junction charter school Caprock Academy, which is not part of the district, will continue to operate on a performance plan this year.

R-5 High School, the only District 51 school evaluated by the state as an “alternative education campus,” moved from an AEC improvement plan last year to an AEC performance plan this year. Alternative education campuses have to have at least 95 percent of students meet at least one of 14 criteria. Criteria range from students being pregnant or homeless to students being victims of abuse or having a history of gang involvement.

R-5 Principal Anna Goetz said she wasn’t satisfied with the school being on an improvement plan given the already lower standards set for AEC plans.

“It really motivated us to dig in,” Goetz said, and make changes to the way the school offers interventions, keeps kids in school and teaches students.

The R-5 population is still struggling with attendance and dropouts, Goetz said, but she said staff is working to address the root of those problems, A state grant implemented this year offers students more personal counseling, career guidance and a transition program that welcomes them to the school.

“We’re still in the implementation phase, but I did see a 10 percent increase in attendance in October 2012 compared to last October so we’re on the right track,” Goetz said.

Most District 51 schools have already developed their plans for 2012-13 and are fine-tuning them with the district now. District 51 Chief Academic Officer Bill Larsen said the district is targeting Jan. 15 to turn in all plans to the state. Priority improvement plans are due that day but performance and improvement plans are not officially due until April 15.


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